Whenever I start planning a trip, my focus is on food, which makes sense: Besides eating to live, I write about and style food for a living. Most of the time the planning centers around what I'll be eating while traveling, but preparing for any trip also means mindfully leaving space to carry treats to bring home.
Delhi, where I traveled recently, is full of incredible foods you have to be on the ground (and not a small bit adventurous) to experience: bowls of chole (chickpeas) scooped from huge stainless steel pots and topped with spiced oil and slivered ginger in Old Delhi; golgappas, those hollow, crispy fried dough balls filled à la minute with spiced water and eaten out of hand, standing up, one after another until you can't imagine putting anything else in your body; and so much more.
But India's capital city offers plenty of mandatory takeaways, culinary and otherwise. Here's what I packed into my only mildly distended luggage to take a bit of Delhi home.
Tip: Keep in mind that there are international couriers all over Delhi, so if the city is just one stop on your trip to India, you can arrange for many things (both large and small) to be shipped back home.
Bed and table linens, scarves, cotton dresses, raw fabrics, everything ikat. Try Anoki, FabIndia, and HP Singh (G-1, Vaikunth House, 82 -83, Nehru Place, New Delhi, Delhi 110019), a magical land for raw fabrics in every shape and size. Prepare to be slightly, or in my case, wildly, overwhelmed. Dilli Haat (Sri Aurobindo Marg, Laxmi Bai Nagar, New Delhi, Delhi 110023) is a permanent open-air arts-and-crafts bazaar in southwest Delhi that features a rotating collection of vendors from all over India. Expect textiles and much more. The stalls are constantly rotating, so buy what you love on sight, as the vendor may have disappeared the next day.
Whatever your heart desires, but especially kala elaichi (black cardamom), peppercorns, brown mustard seeds, fenugreek leaves, and asafetida (a distinctive south Indian spice that's relatively unknown outside of India, but should be making its way into your kitchen — yes, it's the stinky one you've heard about). Buy a vacuum-sealed package and double wrap it before tucking it into your luggage.
Khari Baoli, Old Delhi's wholesale spice market, is the biggest in Asia and an incredible, if overpowering, experience. For packaged spices check out Roopak's (6/9 Ajmal Khan Rd, Karol Bagh Market, New Delhi, Delhi 110005) and Mehar Chand & Sons (6535, Khari Baoli, New Delhi, Delhi 110006, near Fatehpuri Masjid).
Tip: Seek out whole spices whenever possible. They'll stay fresher longer once you get them home.
3. Old Monk Rum
The 60-year-old Indian brand is produced by Mohan Meakins at Mohan Nagar in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh, India, and worth seeking out. While it has been going in and out of fashion in India, your liquor cabinet back home will be grateful for the addition of this rich and unique seven-year-old blended dark Indian rum with strong molasses flavors.
4. Indian Snacks
Prepared with teatime or pre-dinner snacking in mind (although I've been serving mine exclusively with apéro), Delhi is brimming with all variety of salty, crunchy treats to put out in little bowls. I'm especially fond of methi mathr (salted fenugreek crackers) and bhujia, a very thin, crunchy snack made with garbanzo bean flour and spices. If you see aloo bhujia, it's the same thing, but made with a blend of garbanzo and potato flour dough. Chakali, spicy, crunchy spirals made with rice flour and sesame seed dough, are another favorite. If you want something sweet, try one of the many flavors of rusk (twice-baked biscuits).
One of the best food bazaars in Delhi, the Indian National Airways Market or INA (Shri Aurobindo Road, New Delhi, Delhi 110023), is a huge, sprawling complex filled with everything from cooking utensils to clothing. Those in the know come for the groceries and hard-to-find ingredients. It's also across (a very busy) street from Dilli Haat (see above); it's worth spending an afternoon exploring both.
5. Hand-Painted Cups, Cans, and Tiffin Boxes
Beautiful and intricately hand-painted cups, cans, and tiffin boxes are ideal for storing all those spices and snacks you're bringing back. Khan Market, one of the oldest (and most upscale) markets in Delhi, houses the tiny Dastkari Haat (Mauve & Pink, Second Floor, 39B, Khan Market, Middle Lane, New Delhi, Delhi 110003). Tucked on the second level, next to Amrapali Jewellers, it offers a trove of handmade wares and art from craftspeople from all across India. My favorite finds were the hand-painted stainless steel boxes, cups, and tiffins.
Delhi is famous for its local silversmiths who specialize in silver art. If you're in the market for a silver tea set, silver jewelry, and showpieces, this is where to buy them. Try Amrapali Shop (No.9 A.B.C, Ground 1st & 2nd Floor, Khan Market, Delhi 110003) or Belirams (ATM-2, Ground Floor, The City Square Mall, Rajouri Garden, New Delhi, Delhi 110027).
Tea or chai is everywhere in Delhi, and while in town, it's most likely you'll drink the most iconic version: a heavily sweetened combination of strong black tea, whole milk, and spices. Take home a few traditional and highly prized varietals and be sure to buy them at reputable shops like Aap ki Pasand and Sancha Tea Boutique (15 Netaji Subhash Marg, Daryaganj, New Delhi, Delhi 110002) or Mittal Tea House Shop (No 8, Main Market, Block 8, Lodi Colony, New Delhi, Delhi 110003).
Darjeeling, from the hills of northeast India, is known as the Champagne of teas and is always a solid choice. Assam and nilgiri teas are known for their unique tastes, and are excellent to take home as well. Should you want to recreate chai at home, seek out assam or ceylon for the most authentic experience.
Aachar, or pickle in Hindi, maintains a constant presence on the Indian (and now, my) table. Aachar is made from a vast range of preserved fruits (mangos! Lemons! Limes!) and vegetables (cauliflower! Cabbage! Pumpkin!) brined in oil, salt, and spice. Achaar can be spicy or sweet, so try a bunch and bring home a few from Navdanya at Dilli Haat Sri Aurobindo Marg (Laxmi Bai Nagar, New Delhi, Delhi 110023).